Before you can innovate, you have to define your innovation style. When we worked with West Elm, they had an Innovation team that was constantly cooking up new ideas and thinking of ways to test them in sandboxes with their users. Behind a strong product leader, we implemented their ideas through Rapid Prototyping, quickly releasing versions of chatbots, VR and AR playgrounds, and AI tools in unthinkably short cycles. Almost everything we built was eventually killed off for not performing as expected, which was, as expected. The baseline assumption at West Elm was that their ideas were most likely going to fail, but if they took enough shots on goal, and didn’t spend too much time on any one concept, then one or two would hit. Those hits could be transformative.
After a few quick flops, their first hit was a Progressive Web App — a hybrid between a mobile website and a native app. After implementing, tweaking, and testing the new technology, the results were striking — the average user spend went up 8%, and the average time on site went up 17%.
Things started to move pretty quickly after that. Meetings with their in-house production teams started popping up on calendars. Other teams from the Williams-Sonoma family all wanted in on the action. Priorities changed and everyone became focused on getting this new mobile experience live on production in time for the holiday rush. Promotions were handed out and applauses were distributed, and the innovation team went back to looking for their next breakthrough.
At AB InBev, the world’s largest brewer of beer, they take an entirely different approach to innovation. Through their Beer Garage tech incubator, where we’ve spoken about the importance of rapid prototyping and iteration, they invite employees from various parts of the company and pair them with graduate students to tackle various challenges the company faces. The program has the dual benefit of attracting eager entrepreneurial minds to the company and giving the employees who are closest to the challenges and inefficiencies opportunities to improve them. The 10-week program is designed to be short, to push teams to move from ideation to testing as quickly as possible.
Plug and Play Accelerator, a startup incubator in Silicon Valley whom we worked with to build a custom integrated content and conferencing system, believes the best way to innovate in a company is to let the entrepreneurs of the world fight it out. They provide services and funding to thousands of startups and give companies exclusive access and updates to the progress being made. When spaghetti sticks to the wall, they are right there to capitalize on it.
Hope Lab, a social innovation think tank focused on adolescent health, mental health, well-being, and behavior-change technology, uses clickable design-only prototyping and on-the-ground user research and focus groups to test a myriad of hypotheses. Only after extensive PRE-totyping do they bring in a team like us to build out the best concepts across various tech platforms in short, research-driven development sprints.
Every company has its own approach to innovation. The very concept of innovation is going through its own transformation. Companies take existing models and further advance the frameworks through relentless experimentation and iteration. In helping these companies further their transformation, we have come up with our own common-thread definition of Innovation:
The process of customizing and improving existing systems to discover volatility and accelerate change, in order to learn.